Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Chris Kallan's AUS Final 6 Preview

For many who have visited this site over the past year and a half, the name Chris Kallan should be a familiar one, owing to his wonderful coverage of AUS basketball in the Halifax Daily News. As many know by now, the Daily News shut its doors recently; however, the greater Halifax area's loss is our gain as Chris has agreed to cover the AUS Final 6 for CISHOOPS.CA and will also be in Ottawa to help cover the Nationals next weekend. Needless to say, I am very happy to officially welcome Chris as a guest writer on the site and thank him in advance for what promises to be excellent coverage. For readers, I'm sure the very professional work Chris produces will be a welcomed change from the dribble that the site moderator continually tries to pass as professional journalism. I am grateful to Chris that he has agreed to augment our CIS coverage in the next two weeks. His first entry is a comprehensive AUS Final 6 tournament preview below:


WHAT: Men's Atlantic Universities Basketball Conference playoffs.
WHERE: Halifax Metro Centre; Halifax, Nova Scotia
WHEN: Friday though Sunday
SCHEDULE: (all games listed as Atlantic Time)
Friday - Quarter-finals:
6 p.m. No. 4 Cape Breton (14-6) vs. No. 5 Dalhousie (10-10)
8:15 p.m. No. 3 Saint Mary's (14-6) vs. No. 6 Prince Edward Island (7-13)
Saturday - Semi-finals:
6 p.m. No. 1 Acadia (18-2) vs. lowest remaining seed
8 p.m. No. 2 St. Francis Xavier (15-5) vs. highest remaining seed, Sunday - final:
2 PM semifinal winners
AT STAKE: The Atlantic champion represents the conference at nationals from March 14 to 16 at Scotiabank Place in Kanata, Ont. A Sunday night conference call will determine a wildcard team from the best of the rest across the

By Chris Kallan
It was madness, sheer madness - and the calendar had yet turned to March. Alberta and UBC, each from Canada West, both slayed formidable foes on the final day of February to reach this month's Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's basketball championship at Scotiabank Place in Kanata, Ont. Western from the Ontario West division followed suit the first of this month by securing its place into the Elite Eight.
Surely, none of those teams read the script.
But hey, that's why they play.
And the best plays are played out on the court, mostly in March, aren't they?
Could the 'upset special' pendulum swing towards the East Coast and wreak havoc on this weekend's Atlantic championship at the Halifax Metro Centre? My crystal ball is at the cleaners, so you'll have to buy a ticket and plunk yourself down in one of those awful orange seats to find out. Twelve days will have elapsed from the end of the regular season until the postseason tourney tips off on Friday, so fatigue won't be a factor. Instead, maybe rust will come into play. Only one team from the six
participants is guaranteed to waltz at the Big Dance with Alberta, UBC, Western and CIS tourney host Carleton, which probably has no plans to be gracious in its quest for a sixth straight W.P. McGee Trophy. The Atlantic tourney is wide open, albeit the defending conference champion Acadia Axemen are considered the frontrunners. Acadia and the perennial contender St. Francis Xavier X-Men each have first round byes, and consequently, one less hurdle to overcome. Despite dropping its season opener, power forward Leonel Saintil (18.5 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 55.1 FG%) and swingman Shawn Berry (16.6 ppg, 1.9 spg, 53.8 FG%), both first team all-stars, led Acadia to a league-high 18 wins in 20 games. St. F.X. guard Tyler Richards (19.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 35 three-pointers), a three-time first team all-star and the only fourth-year member of the squad, and rookie of the year candidate Islam Luiz de Toledo (13.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg), guided the youthful X-Men to a 15-5 campaign for the school's 10th straight playoff bye. Acadia, ranked in the top 10 all season, seems the only likely candidate from this conference to be considered for a wildcard berth should success elude them, but who the heck wants to rely on a phone call to prolong their year? It's worth noting that only once in the last five years have the top two teams following league play each benefitted from their bye and reached the conference final together in the same tourney. The three-wins-in-as-many-days scenario has been performed twice over that span (Acadia, 2007; UPEI, 2003). Therefore, recent history suggests the momentum from an early tourney win trumps having the opening night off.

CAPE BRETON CAPERS vs. DALHOUSIE TIGERS - Nobody, but nobody outside of Sydney expected Cape Breton to cause such a ruckus after losing a handful of veterans due to graduation. But did they ever. The Capers put last year's early exit from the conference tourney out of their minds and shocked ranked Brock twice and Laval once in pre-season play before knocking off the the Saint Mary's Huskies, last year's national semifinalists, in back-to-back games in mid-November. Word around the water cooler was that the Capers were responding well to more defined roles. All-Canadian forward Eric Breland (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Paul Blake (14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Mark McGarrigle (10.1 ppg, 48 three-pointers), Phillip Nkrumah (10.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and speedy rookie guard Tremaine Fraser (9.2 ppg) form the nucleus of a squad which actually led the conference for a spell. A 13-point home triumph over Acadia on Jan. 26 was perhaps the team's biggest feat and followed a heartbreaking one-point loss on the road at Acadia the previous week. Cape Breton even landed in the top 10 rankings at the start of the new year and reached as high as No. 6. Yet the Capers needed just one win in their final three games to secure a bye, but instead dropped them all, including twice to host Saint Mary's by a combined 14 points. The late season slide doesn't bode well for a school with just one playoff victory over the last nine years and which seeks its first conference crown since going back-to-back in 1994 and 1995. But a severely-reduced overall schedule from last year to this year might work in their favour. Dalhousie, without a postseason win since 1999, is considered a legit threat to end the drought. The arrival of former NCAA D-1 guard (Wisconsin-Green Bay) Simon Farine (15.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.0 apg) has the program on the way up, but the Tigers can't merely watch Farine try and do everything on his own. They'll also need to play better defence (77.9 ppg) and take higher percentage shots (41.3 FG %), or make more. Guard Andrew Sullivan (13.8 ppg) missed the start of the season with a broken wrist, but is healthy; forward Germain Bendegue is Dal's top inside threat (11.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg). The teams split the regular season series 1-1 with the Tigers drawing first blood by winning by three at home, a surprising result considering Farine was injured. The Capers returned the favour five days later by whipping their guests by 41 in Sydney, this time with Farine. Puzzling? You bet. Interesting? Absolutely. In a nutshell, Dal needs to play its best game of the year to knock off Cape Breton and move one step closer to winning its first league title since 1996. Rebounding by committee and coming up with loose balls is a must.

SAINT MARY'S HUSKIES vs. PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND PANTHERS - Optimism was sky-high at Saint Mary's back in the fall as the Huskies set out to pick up where they left off from last year's upset win over top-ranked Concordia at nationals and susbequent top four finish. Saint Mary's, ranked fourth in the country in the first coaches' poll, won eight of its first nine and life was good. But prized recruit Brandon Mullins, who led the club in scoring five of the first seven pre-season games, left the team prior to the regular season. So did former starter Clint Bateman, both presumably over a lack of minutes on a stacked roster. The news that Hec Crighton award-winning quarterback Erik Glavic tore his ACL prior to the Vanier Cup meant the hoop Huskies had lost another valuable commodity; the six-foot-six Glavic was arguably the team's unsung hero with his hustle and energy. Losing twice at Cape Breton and coming within a free throw of losing to hapless and winless Memorial in regulation last November drew shock waves across the region. Four players logged over 30 minutes per game from a six-man rotation down the stretch and that's cause for concern considering the Huskies need to win three times in less than two days. Eventually, the Huskies dropped out of the rankings by December and haven't been back since. But you know what? Saint Mary's is still a dangerous team; the Huskies won their last four and six of seven. First team all-star Mark McLaughlin (19.1 ppg, 29 three-pointers), Aaron Duncan (15.8 ppg, 25 three-pointers) and Shane Morrison (15.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) give the Huskies three players with at least 15 points per game. McLaughlin, also a tough defender, cracked the 30-point plateau three times and pots 91.7 per cent of his tosses from the charity stripe. Foul him while he's shooting and you'll frown while you plead your innocence. Improving forward Ikeobi Uchegbu (12.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) came up huge in last year's playoffs and needs to do more of the same. Fifth-year guard Mark Ross, still underrated after all these years, led the league in assists (7.1 per game) and is fourth all-time (491) in league history. His assist/turnover ratio (4.35) is mind-boggling. The Huskies were outrebounded by almost five per game so extra emphasis on cleaning the glass is probably on the to-do list. Also, you'd have to think newcomer Derrick Coleman and youngsters Mike Poole, Jazz Cain and Jack Gallinaugh will have to provide quality minutes off the bench at some point. Perhaps startling given that the Huskies haven't won the league title since 1999 while the X-Men have claimed six since that year, is the fact Saint Mary's actually has two more postseason wins (14) than St. F.X. and has appeared in more finals (7). The Huskies don't usually leave the tourney early, but fall consistently on the final step. It'll be a grind just to reach the final two this time around. U.P.E.I. lost a trio of frontcourt giants from a year ago and went 3-0 out of the gate, but things went downhill from there. Andrew Black (15.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Brent McLaren (13.5 ppg, 31 three-pointers), Manock Lual (13.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Jared Budd (9.8 ppg, 31 three-pointers) are the leaders. The Panthers dropped both league games versus the Huskies, but only lost by three on the road. Nevertheless, this club does not resemble the Cinderella Panthers of 2003 which won the conference title and almost - almost - ousted Carleton at nationals.


COACH: Les Berry
SEED: First
LEAGUE: 18-2
TOP GUNS: Leonel Saintil (18.5 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 55.1 FG%), Shawn Berry (16.6 ppg, 1.9 spg, 53.8 FG%), Peter Leighton (9.2 ppg, 39 three-pointers), Paulo Santana (8.2 ppg, 3.7 apg)
TITLES (most recent): 16 (2007)
WEEKS IN TOP 10 (14 total): 14

COACH: Steve Konchalski
SEED: Second
LEAGUE: 15-5
TOP GUNS: Tyler Richards (19.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 35 three-pointers), Christian Upshaw (13.9 ppg, 5.3 apg), Islam Luiz de Toledo (13.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Dwayne Johnson (12.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
TITLES (most recent): 12 (2006)
WEEKS IN TOP 10 (14 total): None
HIGHEST RANKING: Not applicable

COACH: Ross Quackenbush
SEED: Third
LEAGUE: 14-6
TOP GUNS: Mark McLaughlin (19.1 ppg, 29 three-pointers), Aaron Duncan (15.8 ppg, 25 three-pointers), Shane Morrison (15.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Ikeobi Uchegbu (12.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Mark Ross (7.1 apg)
TITLES (most recent): 13 (1999)
WEEKS IN TOP 10 (14 total): 6

COACH: Jim Charters
SEED: Fourth
LEAGUE: 14-6
TOP GUNS: Eric Breland (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Paul Blake (14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Mark McGarrigle (10.1 ppg, 48 three-pointers), Phillip Nkrumah (10.3 ppg,
7.9 rpg), Tremaine Fraser (9.2 ppg).
TITLES (most recent): 2 (1995)
WEEKS IN TOP 10 (14 total): 8

COACH: John Campbell
SEED: Fifth
LEAGUE: 10-10
OVERALL: 15-15
TOP GUNS: Simon Farine (15.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.1 spg), Andrew Sullivan (13.8 ppg), Germain Bendegue (11.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Drew Stratton
(10.7 ppg)
TITLES (most recent): 1 (1996)
WEEKS IN TOP 10 (14 total): None
HIGHEST RANKING: Not applicable

COACH: Matthew Davies
SEED: Sixth
LEAGUE: 7-13
TOP GUNS: Andrew Black (15.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Brent McLaren (13.5 ppg, 31 three-pointers), Manock Lual (13.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Jared Budd (9.8 ppg, 31
TITLES (most recent): 4 (2003)
WEEKS IN TOP 10 (14 total): None
HIGHEST RANKING: Not applicable

2007 - Acadia 74 Saint Mary's 72 (OT)
2006 - St. F.X. 83 Cape Breton 72
2005 - St. F.X. 82 Saint Mary's 72
2004 - St. F.X. 74 UNB 64
2003 - UPEI 74 Saint Mary's 65 (OT)
2002 - St. F.X. 78 Saint Mary's 68
2001 - St. F.X. 76 Saint Mary's 57
2000 - St. F.X. 68 Saint Mary's 62
1999 - Saint Mary's 81 Acadia 62
1998 - Acadia 73 Dalhousie 66


Anonymous said...

Great preview Chris - thanks. Looking forward to what is sure to be one of the most exciting tournaments in a long time.

Anonymous said...

Solid preview, Chris. Great to see you're covering the tournament.